23. J. Cole "Beautiful Bliss" (2009)
Producer: DJ Green Lantern, Mark Ronson
Album: Attention Deficit
Label: Allido, Interscope
It wasn't wise to go head-to-head with J. Cole on a track in '09. He was too hungry. He rapped like his life depended on the picture-perfect execution of every verse. He stole the show on Wale's clever ode to a certain part of the female anatomy, "Rather Be (Vagina Is for Lovers)," and out-shined Jay-Z on the torch passing, "A Star Is Born." It was only right he closed the year by owning Wale's "Beautiful Bliss."
Cole's verse was a summation of not only the year that changed his life, but the long journey from Fayetteville, NC to St. John's University that had finally paid off. His verse is filled with vivid imagery of a hungry kid blowing fame's door wide open as he relays life lessons, "Ain't nothing given, dog, it's earned/If you just living, dog, you learn/I let you niggas see the light/I'm like the prison yard, I yearn."
In his last few bars, Cole adds an exclamation point to his verse like a crowd-silencing dunk that sends goosebumps up the spine of stunned spectators. —Julian Kimble